HENRICO COUNTY, Va. – The death of a firefighter in Henrico County is a sober reminder of the mental health challenges first responders can face.
That firefighter died by suicide Tuesday after he posted a public goodbye note on social media.
Flags were flying half-staff at Henrico Fire Station 22 Wednesday and Henrico County leaders released a statement saying they were “deeply saddened” by the loss.
“He was an exemplary employee who served the county with selflessness and distinction,” Henrico County Public relations Director Ben Sheppard said. “Our hearts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues at this very difficult time."
Fellow firefighters in Central Virginia are mourning, including Pastor Jason Elmore of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church.
Elmore, a firefighter who also serves as chaplain for Chesterfield Fire and EMS, said the loss is painful.
“When something like this happens, this impacts the whole fire service community,” Elmore said. “We're looking out for our own folks too, because we've had members of our department who were close to the individual in Henrico and we want to be there for them as well.”
Elmore said the tragedy reinforces the need for more conversation about depression and what many first responders go through.
“That's why peer-to-peer support teams in fire and EMS departments across our area are so important,” Elmore explained. “We want to let people know you are not weak for asking for help. In fact, you're strong for reaching out and understanding that there is an issue that needs to be taken care of.”
Ames Hart with the Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said people should keep in mind that someone dealing with depression or mental illness may not be in a place to ask for help.
So when friends and loved ones see signs, it is best to be up front, ask and listen.
“The biggest thing we can do when we know someone is having a difficult time is listen. So take the time to find out, what is it is going on right now that has brought you to this place,” Hart said. “And talking to a friend can be a powerful thing. So peer support within any agency is a very powerful thing and for them to be able to talk to a fellow firefighter or first responder is very valuable.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or you can text 741741 for assistance.